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NHL Three Stars: Montour, Eichel and Vejmelka Turn Heads

Adam Proteau explains why Brandon Montour, Jack Eichel and Karel Vejmelka had the best performances in the NHL last week.
Brandon Montour

This is THN.com’s Three Stars of the Week, a regular feature in which we pick out the NHL’s top three performers of the past seven days. Here we go:

3. Karel Vejmelka, G, Coyotes: The Coyotes have won three of their past four games in no small part because of the play of goalie Vejmelka, who posted a 2-1-0 record, 1.68 goals-against average, and .940 SP this week, along with one shutout. The 26-year-old Czechia native is in his sophomore NHL season, and in Arizona’s three wins in their past four tries, he’s allowed just three goals. In the first season of a three-year, $8.175-million contract extension, he’s overcome a slow start to the year and is giving the talent-challenged Coyotes a chance to win. Indeed, his two victories this week came against relatively strong Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders teams, and his single loss was to the white-hot New Jersey Devils.

Vejmelka and the ‘Yotes have a light schedule this week, with only two games in the next seven days. But both games are against strong teams – the Vegas Golden Knights and New York Rangers – and with a three-day break between those two games, it’s probable that Vejmelka will be in net for both of them. He’s giving Arizona great value for his $2.725-million salary cap hit, and though there will likely be many lineup changes to the team before the NHL’s trade deadline arrives, it looks like Vejmelka will be a Coyote for a long time.

2. Jack Eichel, C, Golden Knights: As we chronicled last week, Eichel is thriving for Vegas in his first full season with the franchise. In only three games this week, the 26-year-old center scored four goals – including a hat trick against his former Sabres team – and five points. All of Eichel’s goals came at even strength while he averaged only 17:56 of ice time. That’s why the Golden Knights are paying him a $10-million annual salary.

Eichel’s linemate, winger Chandler Stephenson, also had a very good week with five assists and six points in three games. But he wouldn’t have had those numbers if Eichel didn’t show tremendous finishing skills. Eichel is fully healthy for the first time in a long time, and Vegas is reaping the rewards of their blockbuster trade with the Sabres for him last year. The best appears yet to come for him.

1. Brandon Montour, D, Panthers: In three games with Florida this week, Montour generated a league-best six assists and seven points, tying him for first in the NHL in that category. The 28-year-old blueliner averaged 24:58 of ice time in those games, including a whopping 27:19 against the Carolina Hurricanes (a game in which he had three assists). With cornerstone D-man Aaron Ekblad missing time due to injury, Montour has stepped up and averaged 26:12 in 13 games.

Montour’s personal best numbers on offense came last season – Year 8 of his nine-year NHL career – when he amassed 26 assists and 37 points in 81 games for Florida. However, he’s on track this season to demolish those totals, with 11 assists and 15 points thus far. Ekblad just returned to the Panthers’ lineup Saturday, but Florida  coach Paul Maurice is likely to continue leaning heavily on Montour. He's had some health challenges over the years but is stable and strong for his organization this season.

One of the reasons Panthers GM Bill Zito dealt defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to Calgary this past summer is that Montour is in his prime and capable of contributing strong minutes every night. Florida has a skilled and dependable defense corps, and Montour is a key component in it. 

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